When assessing the depth on the Nationals’ roster at this point, there’s one area where it seems that the team is lacking a proven backup option - the corner infield spots.
Yes, Tyler Moore will enter spring competing for a spot on the 25-man roster, and he can back up Adam LaRoche at first base. Yes, Ryan Zimmerman will be asked to play a little bit of first base this year, as well.
Yes, Jamey Carroll has experience playing third base, and both general manager Mike Rizzo and manager Matt Williams have said that they feel Danny Espinosa could also make a fairly smooth transition to third base.
But ideally, the Nationals would have a guy on their bench who could play both first and third base and has plenty of experience there, giving them added versatility and depth at those spots.
It’s no surprise, then, that the Nats have expressed interest in signing free agent corner infielder Jeff Baker, who reportedly is close to deciding where he’s going to sign.
The Nats have been in contact with Baker’s agent for a couple of months now, according to a source, and are hopeful that they can add the right-handed utility man to their bench for 2014.
Baker not only would provide a versatile corner infield option, he would add some more pop to Williams’ bench. Baker crushed left-handed pitching last year, hitting .314/.407/.667 with 10 homers in 123 plate appearances against southpaws, and posted strong numbers as a pinch-hitter, as well, hitting .286/.375/.381 in those situations.
Now, Baker’s numbers against right-handed pitching (.204/.250/.286 last season) aren’t too impressive, but if he serves as a backup to LaRoche, he’d mainly be in the lineup against lefties, when LaRoche gets a day off.
If Baker does join the Nats, this would leave Moore in a tough spot.
Moore doesn’t offer the defensive versatility that Baker does (in addition to first and third base, Baker can also play second base and is experienced at both corner outfield spots) and he doesn’t have the track record in a pinch-hitting type of role, where he’s batted just .149/.184/.319 with two homers in 49 plate appearances in his big league career.
We’ve already seen how the Nats have made an effort to add veteran bench players this offseason, guys like Carroll and Nate McLouth who are established at the big league level and are used to not getting consistent playing time. Davey Johnson always talked about how tough it is for young players to serve bench roles in the majors, and the Nats like the idea of bringing in veteran, experienced guys to compete for spots on the back-end of the roster.
Baker is also being wooed by the Marlins and the Orioles, according to reports, but it will be interesting to see how hard the Nats push to sign the 32-year-old. We might know the answer any day now.
Update: While we’re talking about backup corner infielders, I guess now is a decent time to pass along the news that former National Chad Tracy has agreed to a minor league deal with the Angels, featuring an invitation to big league spring training.
The Baltimore Sun first reported Tracy’s deal with the Angels.
Tracy signed a minor league deal with the Nats in the offseason leading up to the 2012 campaign, this after spending part of 2011 playing over in Japan. Tracy made the Nats’ 25-man roster out of spring and ended up serving as a key bench bat, hitting .269/.343/.441 with three homers and 14 RBIs.
Late in the 2012 season, the Nats re-upped Tracy to a one-year, $1 million deal for 2013, but the veteran corner infielder didn’t have the same type of success in his second year in D.C., hitting .202/.243/.326 with four homers and 11 RBIs.
He’ll now switch coasts and try to catch on with the Angels, possibly serving as the backup to Albert Pujols at first base.